Guidance

Classifying leather for import and export

How to classify leather for import or export: guidance to using chapter 42 of the UK Trade Tariff and full list of exceptions.

Introduction

Articles covered in this chapter of the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff) are classified according to:

  • the material from which they’re made
  • their type and purpose
  • other characteristics, such as whether or not they’re handmade

This guide will help you to identify what is and what isn’t covered in chapter 42.

Chapter 42 mainly covers items made of leather or of composition leather, under heading codes 4201 to 4206. Some of these heading codes also cover items which are characteristic of the leather trade but which are made of other materials, like plastic or textiles.

There are some leather and leather-type articles which chapter 42 doesn’t cover, such as footwear, furniture or watch straps. Items like these are classified in other chapters, according either to their use or to the material they’re made from.

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing our online UK Trade Tariff tool.

Quick reference table for heading codes

Various types of leather goods such as saddlery, travel goods, handbags and cases are covered in chapter 42. Some items made of other materials, or of gut or other animal parts, are also covered.

The following list isn’t exhaustive, but it’ll help you to check quickly whether or not a particular item is likely to be covered in this chapter.

Item Heading code
Apparel - leather 4203
Bags - designed for prolonged use, made of leather, plastic, textile or paperboard 4202
Bags - travelling, made of leather, plastic sheeting, textile or paperboard 4202
Belts and bandoliers, made from leather or composition leather 4203
Bridles 4201
Briefcases 4202
Cases for spectacles, binoculars, cameras, musical instruments or guns 4202
Catgut 4206
Cosmetic cases 4202
Document cases 4202
Fancy goods made of leather, other than bags, wallets and so on 4205
Gloves - of fur skin 4203     
- of leather 4203
Gut, articles made of 4206
Handbags made of leather, plastic sheeting, textile fabric or paperboard 4202
Harnesses (for animals) 4201
Hat boxes 4202
Leather - bags, clutch bags and handbags 4202        
- belting, machinery 4205       
- clothing and accessories 4203            
- harness and saddlery for animals 4201
Leather - or composition leather: articles not elsewhere specified or included 4205
Leather - articles of a kind used in machinery or mechanical appliances or for other technical uses 4205
Leather clothing accessories 4203
Leather travel goods 4202
Luggage labels made of leather 4205
Mobile phones - cases 4202
Music cases 4202
Musical instrument cases 4202
Needle cases 4202
Executive cases 4202
Pochettes 4202
Pouches and tobacco pouches, made of leather, plastics or textile 4202
Purses, made of leather, plastics or textile 4202
Reading covers (for books) made of leather 4205
Rucksacks 4202
Saddlery 4201
Satchels 4202
Shopping bags 4202
Articles made of raw skins 4202
Suitcases 4202
Ties, made of leather 4203
Cases made of leather, plastic sheeting or textile 4202
Tool cases made of leather, vulcanised fibre, plastics sheeting, textile or paperboard 4202
Travelling trunks 4202
Vanity cases 4202
Wallets made of leather, plastics or textile 4202

Items like saddlery, that are classified under heading code 4201, can be made from any material, such as:

  • leather
  • composition leather
  • fur skin
  • textiles

Items like travel goods that are classified under heading code 4202, are classified by what their ‘outer surface’ is made up of. The outer surface means the outer material that is visible to the naked eye. If the visible material is the top layer of a combination of different materials, then only this top layer counts as the outer surface.

The outer surface of a combination material might be plastic sheeting, perhaps applied over a woven textile fabric, for example. The plastic sheeting can either be made separately (before the combination material is created), or it can be made by applying a coating or covering of plastic to the underlying material. It doesn’t make any difference for classification purposes, provided that the finished outer surface looks the same as an applied layer of manufactured plastic sheeting.

Types of leather and other materials commonly used with it

Articles covered in this chapter are made from leather, composition leather and in some cases certain other materials such as textiles or plastic sheeting.

The headings below will help you to identify different types of material.

Plastic sheeting

Plastic sheeting is any flat material made of the plastics covered in chapter 39. It may be shaped by gluing, sewing, welding or moulding (vacuum forming).

Textile material

A textile material is any flat material made of textile fibres that have been woven or knitted. Textile fibres could include plastic strips that are less than 5 millimetres wide.

Cellular plastic sheeting

Cellular plastic sheeting is a type of plastic that has many cells throughout the material. The cells can be open, closed or a mixture of both. It’s commonly used for making cases and containers classified under heading code 4202. It’s often used as a substitute for leather and described as ‘imitation leather’, ‘synthetic leather’, ‘PU leather’, ‘vinyl leather’ or ‘PVC leather’.

Neoprene

Neoprene is a cellular rubber that has many cells throughout the material. The cells can be open, closed or a mix of both. It’s normally covered on at least one side by a knitted textile fabric.

Leather, composition leather and patent leather

Leather is the hide or skin of animals such as:

  • cows and other bovine species
  • goats and kids
  • sheep and lambs - without their wool
  • swine
  • reptiles like snakes, crocodiles and lizards

Animals used for leather must not be on the endangered species list. To check this, contact the UK office of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) helpline on 0117 372 8749.

Patent leather is leather that’s been coated with a varnish, lacquer or preformed plastic sheet. It has a shiny mirror-like surface. The varnish or lacquer used can be pigmented or non-pigmented and may be based on:

  • vegetable oil that dries and hardens - linseed oil is normally used
  • cellulose derivatives like nitro-cellulose
  • synthetic products (including thermoplastics) - polyurethane plastics are normally used

If preformed plastic sheet is used to coat the leather, it’s usually made from polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The surface of patent leather isn’t necessarily smooth. It could be embossed, maybe to imitate crocodile skin, or artificially crushed, crinkled or grained. But it must still have a shiny mirror-like finish.

To be classified as patent leather, the thickness of the coating or sheet must not be more than 0.15 millimetres.

This group of materials also includes leather that is coated with pigmented paint or lacquer to give it a metallic sheen. These paints and lacquers consist of pigments like mica, silica and similar flakes in a binding substance like vegetable oil that dries and hardens, or plastic. Leather that’s been treated like this is known as ‘imitation metallised leather’.

Patent laminated leather is leather that’s been coated with a sheet of preformed plastic that is thicker than 0.15 millimetres but less than half the total thickness of the finished material. It has the same mirror-like finish as patent leather and is sometimes known as ‘patent coated leather’.

If the leather has been covered by a sheet of preformed plastic that is thicker than 0.15 millimetres, but more than half the total thickness of the finished material, then it’s covered in Chapter 39.

Classifying saddlery and other equipment for animals

Saddlery and other equipment for animals are classified under heading code 4201. They can be made of any material, including leather, composition leather, fur skin or textiles.

Some of the items classified under this heading are listed below.

Equipment for horses

  • saddles and harness for riding, draught and pack animals. Harness equipment includes reins (lunge, side and draw), bridles, girths, martingales, head collars, breast plates, stirrup leathers, breaking and schooling rollers, training rollers and traces
  • knee pads
  • blinkers and anti-cribbing collars
  • boots - including tendon, fetlock, travelling, overreach and brushing boots
  • saddle cloths and pads (also called numnahs)
  • saddle bags and carriers
  • saddle covers
  • specially shaped horse blankets (if these are not specifically shaped, they’re classified under heading code 6301)
  • hoof protector boots, worn over the hoof for medication, in snow, roadwork, transportation, competition work and everyday riding
  • leather stud guards
  • poll guards - these protect the top of the horse’s head and have openings for the ears
  • mane tamers and tail guards
  • lead ropes
  • fly protection items like fringes, veils, nose nets, neck and body covers
Equipment for horses: martingale, boots
Equipment for horses: saddle bag, cover and carrier
Equipment for horses: mane tamer,  horse blanket, tail guard

Equipment for other animals

  • decorated trappings for circus animals (but not decorations like plumes)
  • muzzles
  • collars and leads
  • trappings for dogs or cats
  • dog coats

Harness items for children or adults are classified elsewhere under heading codes 3926, 4205 and 6307.

Classifying luggage, bags and other cases

Luggage items like bags, cases and other similar containers are classified under heading code 4202. This heading code covers only:

  • the items that are specifically named
  • similar containers

Articles classified under this heading code can be made from leather or from a variety of other materials, as identified by the different subheadings. They can be either rigid or soft.

Articles classified under heading code 4202 are listed below.

Trunks, suitcases, vanity cases, executive cases, briefcases, school satchels and similar containers

The outer surface of these items can be made from any material. ‘Similar containers’ include:

  • hat boxes
  • camera accessory cases
  • cartridge pouches
  • sheaths for hunting or camping knives, but not for swords, bayonets, daggers or similar weapons - these are classified under heading code 9307
  • portable toolboxes and cases specially shaped or internally constructed to hold particular tools. If they aren’t specially shaped or constructed they’re generally classified under heading code 3926 or 7326

Some container-type items are not similar to the articles listed under this heading and so are classified elsewhere. These include items such as book covers, photo frames, tobacco jars, sweetmeat boxes and glass or ceramic flasks. These are classified under heading code 4205 if they’re made of, or covered with, leather or composition leather.

Handbags, clutch bags and items normally carried in a pocket or handbag

Handbags may or may not have a shoulder strap. Items normally carried in a pocket or handbag include:

  • spectacle cases
  • note cases, wallets and purses
  • key cases
  • cigarette, cigar and pipe cases
  • tobacco pouches
  • mobile phone cases (without clips or straps)

Handbags and other items must have an outer surface made from, or mainly covered with:

  • leather, composition leather or patent leather
  • plastic sheeting
  • textile materials
  • hard rubber (vulcanised fibre)
  • paperboard

They may also be mainly covered with paper. Spectacle cases are an exception - they can be made of any material.

Travelling bags, toilet bags, cosmetic or make-up bags, rucksacks and sports bags

These can have an outer surface of:

  • leather, composition leather or patent leather
  • plastic sheeting
  • textile materials

Other bags and containers

These include a range of different items:

  • writing cases, pen and pencil cases, needle cases (for sewing and knitting needles)
  • tool and jewellery rolls
  • shoe cases and brush cases
  • jewellery boxes - normally lined with textile material
  • zip-fastened garment bags
  • shopping bags (but not disposable plastic bags)
  • duffle bags
  • laptop computer cases and portable CD/DVD-player cases - usually with a strap
  • CD cases - usually with a strap
  • mobile phone cases with clips or straps
  • decorative storage boxes
  • document holders
  • musical instrument cases

With the exception of musical instrument cases, which can be made from any material, these items must have an outer surface made from, or mainly covered with:

  • leather, composition leather or patent leather
  • plastic sheeting
  • textile materials

They may also be mainly covered with paper.

Classifying clothing and accessories

Clothes and clothing accessories that are made from leather or composition leather are classified under heading code 4203. But this heading doesn’t cover real or artificial fur articles. These are classified under heading code 4303 or 4304.

Items classified under heading code 4203 include:

  • garments and apparel such as dresses, skirts, trousers, jackets, coats, waistcoats, underwear (including bras and knickers), overcoats, aprons, shorts and protective clothing.
  • gloves, mittens and mitts, including gloves that are specially designed for use in sporting activities as well as protective gloves used in the workplace - note that women’s and children’s gloves are classified under subheading code 4203 29 90 00 (other). 
  • belts and bandoliers - a bandolier is a shoulder belt worn across the chest. This also covers leather strips that have been cut and tapered at one end, ready to make into belts.
  • other clothing accessories including neck ties, wrist straps, protective sleeves and braces.

Classifying miscellaneous leather or composition leather items

Miscellaneous items that are made of leather or composition leather are classified under heading code 4205. These include:

  • luggage labels
  • razor strops
  • boot laces
  • handles for parcel carriers
  • corner reinforcements, eg for trunks and suitcases
  • unstuffed pouffe cases, but not stuffed pouffes, which are classified under heading code 9404
  • straps for general use
  • harness mats, but not saddle cloths, which are classified under heading code 4201
  • reading covers for books
  • blotting pads
  • leather or goatskin water bottles and other containers
  • parts of braces
  • leather-covered buckets, clasps and similar items
  • cases, tassels and so on for umbrellas, sunshades or walking sticks
  • sword knots
  • chamois leather, but only if it’s cut to special shapes or has serrated edges, otherwise it’s classified under heading code 4114
  • nail-polishers covered with buckskin
  • other pieces of leather or composition leather cut to shape
  • leather organisers

Classifying articles made of gut or other animal materials

Items made from animal gut and other animal materials are classified under heading code 4206. These include articles made from:

  • catgut - formed by twisting strips of animal gut (especially sheep’s gut) that’s been cleaned and dried. Catgut is mainly used in the manufacture of tennis and other rackets, fishing tackle and machinery parts. Note that this heading doesn’t cover sterile catgut - classified in Chapter 30 under heading code 3006, or gut used to make musical instrument strings - classified in Chapter 92 under heading code 9209
  • goldbeater’s skin - this is the prepared blind gut of sheep or other ruminant animals. This heading covers items made of goldbeater’s skin as well as pieces of goldbeater’s skin that are square, rectangular or cut to other shapes
  • bladders - such as tobacco pouches
  • tendons - for example, made up into machinery belting or laces for machinery belting
  • ‘artificial’ guts - these are made by gluing together split natural (animal) guts

Exceptions and difficult classifications

The following items aren’t covered in chapter 42:

  • Footwear and parts of footwear that are covered in Chapter 64.
  • Furniture, lamps, lighting fittings and other furnishings that are covered in Chapter 94.
  • Toys, games and other leisure and sporting items covered in Chapter 95. These include protective sporting equipment like shin guards, fencing masks and breast plates.
  • Hats and parts of hats are covered in Chapter 65.
  • Real fur skin articles are covered in Chapter 43 under heading code 4303.
  • Garments made out of textile material that have leather reinforcements are covered in Chapter 61 or Chapter 62.
  • Drawstring shoe bags. If these are made of textile materials then they’re covered in Chapter 63 and if they’re made of plastic sheeting they’re covered in Chapter 39. Chapter 39 also covers disposable bags made of plastic sheeting under heading code 3923.
  • Metal fittings or trimmings for harnesses like stirrups, bits, horse brasses and buckles are covered in Section XV, Chapters 72 to 83.
  • Decorations like plumes for circus animals are classified according to the material they’re made from.
  • Sterile catgut and similar sterile suture materials which are covered in Chapter 30 under heading code 3006.
  • Gut used for musical instrument strings, or skins for musical instruments like drums are covered in Chapter 92 under heading code 9209.
  • Whips, riding-crops, walking sticks and similar items covered in Chapter 66 under heading code 6602.
  • Made up articles of netting, like fishing nets are covered in Chapter 56, under heading code 5608.
  • Imitation jewellery, including cufflinks and bracelets are covered in Chapter 71 under heading code 7117.
  • Miscellaneous items like buttons, press fasteners, snap fasteners, press studs, button moulds and button blanks are covered in Chapter 96 under heading code 9606.

Hand-made items

Some hand-made items, like saddles, cases and handbags, can only be classified under a ‘hand-made’ subheading if they’ve been certified as hand-made by a recognised authority in the country where they’re produced. They need a special certificate called a handicraft certificate.

Artificial fur

For the purposes of the Tariff, artificial fur means imitation fur that’s been made by gumming or sewing wool, hair or other fibres onto leather, or onto a woven fabric. Artificial fur does not include woven or knitted long pile fabrics which are sometimes called fake fur.

Parts and ornamentation

Sometimes articles like bags and belts have parts, fittings or ornamentation made from:

  • precious metal, or metal plated with precious metal
  • natural or cultured pearls
  • precious or semi-precious stones (these could be natural, synthetic or reconstructed)

Provided that these parts or ornamentation do not give an article its essential character, it can be classified in chapter 42. So, for example, a leather belt with a gold buckle would be covered in this chapter as would a leather handbag with a silver frame and an onyx clasp. But if the parts or ornamentation do give an article its essential character then the article is classified in chapter 71.

Sports items

Sports bags are classified under heading code 4202 and include items like:

  • golf bags
  • gym bags
  • tennis racket bags
  • ski bags
  • fishing bags

Gloves, mittens and mitts that are specially designed for use in sports are classified under subheading code 4203 21 and include gloves used for:

  • boxing
  • cricket
  • ice hockey
  • hockey
  • football (worn by the goal keeper)
  • baseball

But this heading code doesn’t cover gloves designed for golf or motor sports, which are classified under subheading 4203 29 90 00.

Further information

HM Revenues & Customs Tariff Classification Service enquiry line 01702 366 077

CITES Helpline 0117 372 8749

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